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Need a certified translation? I provide certification services for translations in the United States. Please send me the details of your certification needs and I will get back to you with a quote. Notarized translations are also possible through remote notaries.

Why Machine Translation is Not My Bogeyman

File:Gustave Doré - Dante Alighieri - Inferno - Plate 13 (Canto V - Minos).jpg
Gustave Doré – Dante Alighieri – Inferno – Plate 13 (Canto V – Minos)

There are many misconceptions about the job of translators. When I get out from behind my computer and into the world, the people I interact with, from family members to other professionals to parents in my son’s 0-3 play group, inevitably do one of the following: treat me as a human dictionary, express skepticism about my stance on not translating out of my mother tongue, act surprised I don’t speak a gazillion languages, give me a sly look as they ask about machine translation and what they assume is my impending obsolescence. An author once jokingly admitted his astonishment at meeting a real live translator, as if I were a rare specimen, one bound for extinction. (I went on to translate several of his books.) Even though much of what we do as translators happens remotely, and so necessarily through the mediation of machines, our task remains inherently human. I have no interest in reading a novel or poem written by a robot, since how can a machine give me insight into the human soul? Likewise for a translation made entirely through machine translation: how can technology understand and render all the nuance, tone, cultural innuendo, and je ne sais quoi of great literature? Indeed, the fact that some books get retranslated again and again, to better speak to different generations of readers, is telling.

Yet machine translation, particularly together with other features of Computer Assisted Translation tools, is becoming more and more vital to our work, making us more efficient, less prone to error, and better able to collaborate—provided, that is, we know when and how to make use of these tools. For some texts, they can be an asset. Translation software is often a good solution for documents featuring a lot of repetition, since it helps translators be consistent in their vocabulary choices and can free up mental space for more challenging areas of the text. It can also ensure that numbers and dates don’t get distorted through typing errors. Moreover, in my work as a translation proofreader, I have come across many translations with missing sections of the original text. This can happen when translations are made under tight deadlines that don’t give translators the time to review their own work against the source text. But, even under time constraints, it can be avoided with the help of translation software. Finally, for large, on-going projects (as in some legal cases, long-term marketing campaigns, etc.) software can help translators work together and provide consistent language choices, even over periods of many years.

In my experience, machine translation tools are not well suited to literary or even academic translation. In addition to the loftier ideals mentioned above, I attribute this in large part to parsing. Most translation software parses texts into sentence-by-sentence segments and will then provide translation suggestions, recommended vocabulary, and so forth. But a literary translator needs to work not only at the minute level of the sentence or the individual word, they also have to grasp the larger whole, which can sometimes call for work on a more architectural scale as the translator rebuilds a section to better reflect what the source text is up to. Even the suggestions given by machine translation can be a nuisance, cluttering the translator’s mind and preventing them from straying away from the source text’s syntax, for example, to find other, less obvious solutions.

Similar reservations can be expressed for academic translation, though there is one thing I would like to add: academic style. Cultural differences apply not only to the content of what is being expressed but to the form. The ways in which we express ideas, including sentence length, the amount and type of jargon used, what we consider “smart” language, the acceptable use of repetition or passive voice, and so many other factors, can vary dramatically from one academic culture to the next. And this cultural straddling, this refashioning of a text to make it cohere with the target culture’s expectations and norms: this requires human judgment.

I am a translator, and I am not afraid machine translation will put me out of a job. Machine translation is one of many tools at my disposal to provide the best possible translations for my clients. Now, what is my bogeyman? A last-minute babysitter cancellation when I’ve got a deadline coming up. Or the Internet going down …

The American Translators Association has a useful position paper on machine translation: ATA Position Paper on Machine Translation: A Clear Approach to a Complex Topic. Their takeaway: “Professional translators and machine translation engines work together very well. […] If reliable and secure translation is desired, machine translation should not be used without the ongoing involvement of professional translators.”

Race, resistance, and social change

New published translation out in The Red and the Black: The Russian Revolution and the Black Atlantic. This book is part of an exciting and timely series on race by Manchester University Press. Other titles include: A Savage Song: Racist Violence and Armed Resistance in the Early Twentieth-Century US-Mexico Borderlands (by Margarita Aragon), Black Resistance to British Policing (by Adam Elliott-Cooper), Global White Nationalism: From Apartheid to Trump (eds. Daniel Geary et al.), Race Talk: Languages of Racism and Resistance in Neapolitan Street Markets (by Antonia Lucia Dawes), and more.

France in the World

New published translations in this dynamic collaborative project:

This dynamic collection presents a new way of writing national and global histories while developing our understanding of France in the world through short, provocative essays that range from prehistoric frescoes to Coco Chanel to the terrorist attacks of 2015.

Bringing together an impressive group of established and up-and-coming historians, this bestselling history conceives of France not as a fixed, rooted entity, but instead as a place and an idea in flux, moving beyond all borders and frontiers, shaped by exchanges and mixtures. Presented in chronological order from 34,000 BC to 2015, each chapter covers a significant year from its own particular angle–the marriage of a Viking leader to a Carolingian princess proposed by Charles the Fat in 882, the Persian embassy’s reception at the court of Louis XIV in 1715, the Chilean coup d’état against President Salvador Allende in 1973 that mobilized a generation of French left-wing activists.

France in the World combines the intellectual rigor of an academic work with the liveliness and readability of popular history. With a brand-new preface aimed at an international audience, this English-language edition will be an essential resource for Francophiles and scholars alike.

Book translated and adapted from the French:

‘ Ce ne serait pas trop de l’histoire du monde pour expliquer la France ‘

Jules Michelet, Introduction à l’histoire universelle (1831)

Voici une histoire de France, de toute la France, en très longue durée qui mène de la grotte Chauvet aux événements de 2015.

Une histoire qui ne s’embarrasse pas plus de la question des origines que de celle de l’identité, mais prend au large le destin d’un pays qui n’existe pas séparément du monde, même si parfois il prétend l’incarner tout entier. Une histoire qui n’abandonne pas pour autant la chronologie ni le plaisir du récit, puisque c’est par dates qu’elle s’organise et que chaque date est traitée comme une petite intrigue.

Réconciliant démarche critique et narration entraînante, l’ouvrage réunit, sous la direction de Patrick Boucheron, un collectif d’historiennes et d’historiens, tous attachés à rendre accessible un discours engagé et savant. Son enjeu est clair : il s’agit de prendre la mesure d’une histoire mondiale de la France, c’est-à-dire de raconter la même histoire nul contre-récit ici qui revisite tous les lieux de mémoire du récit national, mais pour la déplacer, la dépayser et l’élargir. En un mot : la rendre simplement plus intéressante !

Ce livre est joyeusement polyphonique. Espérons qu’un peu de cette joie saura faire front aux passions tristes du moment.

Directeur d’ouvrage : Patrick Boucheron est professeur au Collège de France.

Coordination : Nicolas Delalande est professeur associé au Centre d’histoire de Sciences Po ; Florian Mazel est professeur à l’université Rennes 2 ; Yann Potin est chargé d’études documentaires aux Archives nationales ; Pierre Singaravélou est professeur à l’université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne.

The Colonial Legacy in France Fracture, Rupture, and Apartheid

Edited by Nicolas Bancel, Pascal Blanchard, and Dominic Thomas
Translated by Alexis Pernsteiner
Distribution: World
Publication date: 5/2/2017
Format: cloth 500 pages
6 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-253-02625-5

Debates about the legacy of colonialism in France are not new, but they have taken on new urgency in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. Responding to acts of religious and racial violence in 2005, 2010, and 2015 and beyond, the essays in this volume pit French ideals against government-sponsored revisionist decrees that have exacerbated tensions, complicated the process of establishing and recording national memory, and triggered divisive debates on what it means to identify as French. As they document the checkered legacy of French colonialism, the contributors raise questions about France and the contemporary role of Islam, the banlieues, immigration, race, history, pedagogy, and the future of the Republic. This innovative volume reconsiders the cultural, economic, political, and social realities facing global French citizens today and includes contributions by Achille Mbembe, Benjamin Stora, Françoise Vergès, Alec Hargreaves, Elsa Dorlin, and Alain Mabanckou, among others.

Deadly Aid, Michel Tarou

Jeanne Lebrec knows that in real life, criminals are rewarded and the virtuous suffer. As a social worker, she has dedicated herself to helping the poor, the desperate, and the down and out, but now it seems like all she sees are deadbeat dads and drug-addicted moms who use people and have no desire to better themselves.

One day, after a particularly heartbreaking case, Jeanne reaches her limit and does something unexpected—with deadly consequences. Before long, she’s secretly practicing her own twisted version of “social services.” In a world where bad guys win and good guys pay, is there a difference between justice and retribution?

Published by AmazonCrossing in July 2015: buy it here.

 

Elle, tome II of the Hotelles series, Emma Mars

Emma Mars delivers the sexy, enticing sequel to her first novel Hotelles and follows the adventures of a young French woman as she continues her carnal education in a mysterious Parisian hotel.

In a hotel room in Paris, a young woman named Elle experiences the most exquisite freedom and sensual pleasure she has ever known, thanks to Louie, the man who has conquered her completely.

So many things in life have changed since they first met. Her engagement to Louie’s deceptive brother, David, has been broken. Her mother has died. Yet Elle is wholly fulfilled with Louie, the master who heightens her senses and unleashes her deep, seductive power.

In the alluring Hôtel des Charmes, Louie takes Elle beyond her wildest fantasies. Exploring the boudoirs devoted to other courtesans—Mademoiselle Josephine, Deschamps, Kitty Fisher, Cora Pearl, and Valtesse de La Bigne—Elle willingly opens herself further. In sublime self-abandonment she discovers absolute ecstasy, absolute sweetness, absolute desire.

Then David unexpectedly returns, stirring up painful memories and threatening their bliss. Elle fears her education may soon be over. . . .

She does not understand that it has only just begun.

Published in April 2015 by Harper Perennial, buy it here.

Bad Conscience, Michel Quint

One morning, a devastating earthquake shakes the residents of Aix-en-Provence out of their beds. When a group of college students decides to take advantage of the ensuing chaos by looting a destroyed jewelry store, they are quickly in over their heads. One by one people around them are dying. Bitter and desperate, survivors are fleeing town in search of a safe haven, complicating the escape path of these unlucky petty thieves.

What started as a get-rich-quick scheme reveals the complex plans of a dangerous criminal mastermind who has evaded capture for years. Professional criminals, amateur thieves, and deranged cops are all racing after jewels. With all their lives in the balance, who will be the last one standing?

Published in April 2015 by AmazonCrossing, buy it here.

Writing Exile

This month’s issue of Words without Borders, a monthly magazine publishing literature from around the world, focuses on the theme of exile.

Living abroad, working and thinking between languages and cultures, I am keenly interested in the ways in which encounters with the foreign shape our identities, transforming us into hybrid beings — caught somewhere between our roots and otherness. This experience, the startling disjunction between self and self-other, is perhaps most radical in cases of exile. Indeed, in the piece I’ve translated for this issue, Chadian author Koulsy Lamko compares exile to a nearly impossible act of grafting:

“Splicing oneself onto a strange root successfully is a miracle. Unless one possesses the properties of mistletoe and can grow on a tree whose roots are not one’s own. Slowly but surely, exile erases us from the memory of our land. And the day we try to go back to our country, to set foot there, by chance, for a sun, a moon, we realize that our land has abandoned us; it has turned its back on us, doesn’t recognize us anymore, has disowned us.”*

Reading the pieces in Writing Exile, I am reminded of a line in Maurice Blanchot asserting that a work worth translating is one that reflects a living language’s otherness with respect to itself (“Traduire”, L’Amitié). Here, it seems that subject and form are well matched, for in a magazine in which translation plays a central role, with writings by Venezuelan, Syrian, Iraqi, Chadian writers in exile, we are given a multiplicity of accounts and voices struggling with the shifting borders between self and other.

Click on the image to access the issue:

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*Citation from a translated excerpt of Les racines du Yucca, a story about an African author with a paper allergy who ends up organizing writing workshops in the Yucatán for exiles and survivors of war.